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Internationally praised and acclaimed for revitalising the tradition of the figurative statue – which has been largely abandoned by mainstream minimal and conceptual art trends since the 1960’s – Balkenhol deliberately avoids specific narrative references in order to depict the familiar yet anonymous ‘Everyman’, common men and women, rather than the usual historical heroes and heroines generally associated with classical sculptures in his work.
A student of German conceptual sculptor Ulrich Ruckiem in Hamburg, Balkenhol had an explorative and creative approach to sculpture and ‘human form’ that can be described and seen as a reaction to our current understanding and engagement of traditional and contemporary art. His use of distorted proportions, ordinary clothed figures and an often unusual choice of animals inject a sense of humour into this familiar and expected art form, creating an easily accessible yet intimate aesthetic that has generated a wider appeal for the mass public.
Balkenhol applies and extends the same concepts to his drawings and wood relief works. His drawing, often based upon his own imagination as he has seldom worked with real-life models, echoes the essence of his sculptural work with a childlike sensibility. Meanwhile, his wood relief recalls traditional portraiture, yet simultaneously resonates with a contemporary photography of youth by Thomas Ruff and Jeff Wall. The nonchalant and distant facial expressions on the young men and woman in Balkenhol’s reliefs give nothing away, concealing a mysterious quality surrounding the subjects.
Stephan Balkenhol was born 1957 in Fritzlar (Hasse), Germany and currently lives and works in Karlsruhe, Germany, and Meisenthal, France. He has been exhibited extensively since the early eighties, including the prestigious and prominent “Skulptur Projekte in Munster’ (The Munster Sculpture Project) in Germany, The Saatchi Gallery in London, The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, Japan’s National Museum of Art in Osaka and the Tokyo Opera City Gallery, ‘Africus: Johannesburg Biennale ’95’ in South Africa, the Institute of Contemporary Art in London, the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, the Montreal Museum of Fine Art, the Neue Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery) Berlin in Germany and the Kunsthalle Basel in Switzerland.